California Poised to Cut Remedial Classes at Community Colleges

Assembly Bill 1705 cleared the state Assembly and Senate in August and is expected to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Published September 13, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
California Poised to Cut Remedial Classes at Community Colleges
Higher Ed Policy
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN / Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

  • Remedial courses are preparatory high school-level classes that cost the same as college-level classes but cannot be used toward a degree.
  • California previously restricted remedial education. Studies have shown they decrease the probability to graduate.
  • The bill would require community colleges to place students into transfer-level math and English courses with some exceptions.

Remedial classes may soon become a relic of the past at California's community colleges.

Assembly Bill 1705, which almost completely prohibits California Community Colleges from placing students in remedial math and English classes, cleared the state Assembly and Senate in August and is expected to be signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The legislation builds off a law passed in 2017 that forbids community colleges from making students enroll in remedial courses, unless they are considered "highly unlikely to succeed in transfer-level coursework." Remedial courses increase the time it takes for students to get a degree.

"Significant progress has been made, but it is clear that additional work remains to ensure students in California are not enrolling in courses that delay their success and add unnecessary costs," California Assembly member Jacqui Irwin said in an April 2021 statement announcing AB 1705. "Being unnecessarily placed into remedial education can have an enormous impact on a student's educational trajectory and future opportunities."

The new bill would "maximize the probability" that students entering community colleges will enroll in courses that transfer to four-year colleges, with limited exceptions, and bars schools from requiring students to repeat classes they passed in high school.

Colleges would only be allowed to enroll students in remedial math and English classes if they are considered "highly unlikely to succeed" in a transfer-level class based on their high school GPA and coursework. Or, they could be enrolled if the remedial course would increase the student's chances of completing transfer-level courses within one year.

Schools would also be allowed to use guided placement or self-placement for students who have not graduated from high school. Additional exceptions to transfer-level placement include students with documented disabilities and those enrolled in a certificate program without English or mathematics requirements.

The new bill would "maximize the probability" that students entering community colleges will enroll in courses that transfer to four-year colleges, with limited exceptions, and bars schools from requiring students to repeat classes they passed in high school.

The legislation received no opposing votes in the California Assembly. A California Senate analysis of AB 1705 shows the bill was endorsed by California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office, and several individual community college districts.

However, the Academic Senate for California Community Colleges, the California Federation of Teachers, and the Faculty Association of California Community Colleges have all spoken out against AB 1705. They argue that many students struggle when placed directly into transfer-level courses and that the bill includes no support for faculty.

A 2016 report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) found that 80% of students entering California community colleges take at least one developmental course in math or English.

For six years, researchers tracked students who entered community college for the 2009-2010 school year and attempted at least one remedial math or English course, neither of which can be applied toward a degree.

They found that students placed into developmental math take an average of 2.5 semesters to complete the sequence, while students in developmental English average 1.9 semesters.

Less than 16% of students enrolled in remedial courses earned a certificate or associate degree within six years, the researchers found, and only 24% successfully transferred to four-year colleges.

"Developmental education that is not effective comes at a high cost to students — not only in tuition and fees for courses that do not count toward a degree but also in time and lost income," Marisol Cuellar Mejia, PPIC research associate and co-author of the report, said in a 2016 press release. "It is also costly to California, which needs more college-educated workers and relies on community colleges as an entry point to higher education.”